THE football year should get off to a flying start as three Mayo clubs - Castlebar Celtic, Manulla and Westport United - enjoy home advantage at the last 32 stage of the FAI Junior Cup tomorrow (Sunday, January 10).
Usually it's hard to know what to expect from the opposition beyond county boundaries but that's not the case for Mayo Super League champions Westport, who have faced St. Peter's of Athlone a number of times over the years.
They've been close games too. St. Peter's, who are affiliated to the Combined Counties League, played host to the Covies a couple of seasons ago when United came away from Athlone with a 2-1 win, while St. Peter's won on penalties when the sides met in 2009 and went on to finish runners-up in the competition that year. In 2006, Westport - then defending champions - secured a 2-1 win over St. Peter's in a game that also went to extra time.
Obviously there's good cup pedigree there but you'd expect home advantage to be key, especially if the likes of Dave Cameron, David Hoban, Danny Scahill, Pat Fitzgerald, Joe Lawless and Martin Geraghty are playing and showing top form.
There are plenty of options for manager John Brennan besides, and his side are sure to be competitive on Sunday. St. Peter's are no mugs though, so this could be a very close game - again.
New Castlebar Celtic manager Ciaran Kelly couldn't have asked for a better start against an honest but limited Slieveardagh United side in the last round of the competition, a game Celtic won by three goals to nil.
It's likely that Glengad United of the Inishowen League will be a tougher prospect. Based close to Malin Head on the Inishowen Peninsula, Glengad have enjoyed quite a degree of success of late and are the reigning league champions.
However, they will face a Celtic side that's brimming with confidence going forward. With an attack that features Paul Fitzgerald, Paul Moran and Jordan Loftus, augmented by the midfield nous of Ger O'Boyle, Ioseph O'Reilly and Colm Nevin (if fit again), scoring goals is usually not a problem. Keeping them out might be a bigger challenge, although Steve Ryan and James Minogue have struck up a decent centre-half partnership and Tommy O'Reilly is fine defender on the left flank.
If the defence is sorted you'd expect Celtic to get goals and, ultimately, to sneak a win in this one.
Manulla probably won't want reminding that it was Galway & District Premier League opposition who knocked them out of last year's Connaught Cup. That game against Corrib Celtic finished 3-1, the visitors to Carramore turning on the style in the first half before the hosts mounted a second-half fightback that unfortunately yielded just the one goal.
On Sunday Manulla welcome another Galway side, Salthill Devon. But it's a different Manulla side now, one very much used to winning cup games. Young players like Keelan McDonnell, Conor High, Sean Morrissey and Conor Byrne have become integral parts of the team, gelling with more experienced players such as Gary Durkan, Killian McGlade and Declan Tonra.
As evidenced by their victory away to Glen Celtic in Cork last time out in the FAI Junior Cup, Manulla show no fear in knockout competitions and while we can expect Salthill Devon to be decent, the central Mayo outfit should be well capable of keeping their great run of cup results going.
All three games are due to start at 2 p.m. tomorrow, weather permitting.